June 6, 2019
A misleading headline related to President Donald Trump’s impromptu visit to a Virginia church June 2 began a social media frenzy two days later with former International Mission Board president David Platt as the focus of the negative responses.
According to news reports, Platt, now pastor of McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Virginia, about 15 miles outside of Washington D.C., and former pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, had the unexpected opportunity on Sunday to pray with the president, whose team said he desired to come by the church to pray for the victims of a mass shooting in Virginia Beach May 31.
Trump made the unannounced stop “to visit with the pastor and pray for the victims and community of Virginia Beach,” said Judd Deere, White House spokesperson.
Platt said he found out about the visit just minutes before Trump arrived and, citing 1 Timothy 2:1-6, decided that it was “good, and pleasing in the sight of God, to pray for the president” — a “unique opportunity,” not a political one, he wrote in an online letter to the church later that day.
“Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we didn’t see coming, and we’re faced with a decision in a moment when we don’t have the liberty of deliberation, so we do our best to glorify God. Today, I found myself in one of those situations,” Platt wrote.
Backstage with Trump, he and another McLean pastor “spoke the gospel in a way that I pray was clear, forthright, and compassionate,” Platt wrote. Then he spoke the gospel message again in his prayer with the church, praying on the president’s behalf for “grace,” “mercy” and “wisdom.”
“God, we pray that he (Trump) would know how much You love him — so much that You sent Jesus to die for his sins, our sins — so we pray that he would look to You, that he would trust in You, that he would lean on You,” Platt prayed. “That he would govern and make decisions in ways that are good for justice, and good for righteousness, and good for equity, every good path.”
The three-and-a-half minute prayer, posted online by Bloomberg, asked God to give the president “all the grace he needs to govern” and for a blessing on Trump and his family. (A video of the prayer is also posted at McLean Bible Church’s website.)
“We pray that you would give them strength. We pray that you give them clarity, wisdom,” Platt said. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fools despise wisdom and instruction. Please, oh God, give him wisdom, and help him to lead our country, alongside other leaders.”
Platt received both praise and criticism for his handling of only a few minutes notice that the president of the United States was on his way and would like the church to pray for him.
But Platt’s letter to his church got a lot of attention online when the Washington Examiner, a conservative-leaning news site, posted an article with a headline characterizing Platt’s letter as an apology.
In a blog post pastor and educator Kevin Blackwell disagreed with the headline’s interpretation of Platt’s letter.
“The title of the article shows a lack of journalistic integrity by the editors of the Washington Examiner and was likely chosen because of the clicks and views it would receive,” Blackwell, who blogs at www.drkevinblackwell.com, observed. “The editors chose a headline that attracted readers instead of actually reflecting the reality of David Platt’s statement. As a result, some chose to make a judgment against Platt based solely on the headline rather than actually reading his statement and giving a brother in Christ the benefit of the doubt.”
In the letter to his church Platt said he was sharing background on the president’s visit for the benefit of “some within our church, for a variety of valid reasons” who were “hurt” by his decision to bring the president onstage for a three-minute prayer.
“This weighs heavy on my heart,” Platt wrote. “I love every member of this church, and I only want to lead us with God’s Word in a way that transcends political party and position, heals the hurts of racial division and injustice, and honors every man and woman made in the image of God.”
Without going into details of the conversation, Platt said he and another pastor “spoke the gospel in a way that I pray was clear, forthright and compassionate” before he and Trump walked onstage.
“In the end, would you pray with me for gospel seed that was sown today to bear fruit in the president’s heart?” Platt asked church members. “Would you also pray with me that God will help us to guard the gospel in every way as we spread the gospel everywhere? And finally, I’m guessing that all of us will face other decisions this week where we don’t have time to deliberate on what to do. I’m praying now for grace and wisdom for all of us to do exactly what we talked about in the Word today: aim for God’s glory, align with God’s purpose, and yield to God’s sovereignty.”
Trump’s visit came on the day that evangelist Franklin Graham and 250 other Christian leaders around the country had called for a special day of prayer for President Trump.
“President Trump’s enemies continue to try everything to destroy him, his family, and the presidency,” Graham said on Facebook May 26. “In the history of our country, no president has been attacked as he has. I believe the only hope for him, and this nation, is God.”
Platt’s name is not among clergy who endorsed the effort, and he did not mention it during his prayer.
Blackwell said he believes Platt was “completely scriptural” both in praying for the president and explaining his decision.
“I have watched his prayer several times and have carefully read his statement to the people of McLean Bible Church. I hope you will do the same and not join the voices of criticism toward a man who when faced with a tricky situation chose to take the high road. There are some wonderful lessons to be learned in how pastor Platt handled this situation,” Blackwell wrote. “Prayer knows no political affiliation. … I am convinced that while Platt didn’t see this coming, God certainly did and was in fact orchestrating the entire event. Instead of criticizing our brother in Christ may we all strive to be as bold as him. We should pray for our president and national leaders, see all people as worthy recipients of the gospel and use the wisdom of God in loving people toward a unity of spirit that brings God much glory.”
(Carrie Brown McWhorter, BP and BNG contributed)